Picking up the pieces after a natural disaster can be difficult – especially if your property’s had heavy damage. Even if your home has been properly insured, there are still steps that need to be taken to ensure a timely response from your insurance company. Here’s some advice from the New York Insurance Department:
--The first thing you should do is notify your insurance company of the loss. Although you can do this by telephone, the New York Insurance Department recommends following up in writing to create a paper trail. Remember to notify your insurer, not the broker who sold you the policy. If you do notify your broker, it’s still your responsibility to make sure he follows up with the insurer.
--Protect your property. Board up broken windows to protect your home from further damage, burglary or vandalism. The out-of-pocket expense you incur for this should be covered by your policy, and would be reimbursed.
--The New York Insurance Department advises against making permanent repairs, however; your insurer needs to send an adjuster over to inspect the property first. The insurer can legally refuse to pay for damage that has been repaired before inspection.
--The adjuster will examine the damage and make an estimate on the cost of repairs. You might also want to get an estimate from your contractor to compare with the insurer’s estimate.
--If you feel you need to negotiate a settlement with your insurance company, you may want to hire an attorney or a licensed public adjuster. Public adjusters, who are licensed by the New York Insurance Department, will help you take inventory of the damage, secure your property and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Remember, public adjusters may charge no more than 12.5 percent of the recovery amount obtained from the insurer.
--If you can’t reach an agreement with your insurer, remember that New York state law provides for a disinterested appraisal process. You and your insurer can each select a qualified appraiser. Those appraisers select an umpire, who settles any disagreements in the appraisers’ valuations. The costs for this process are split between you and your insurer.
For more information, visit the New York Insurance Department.
While the storm is still over New York, the possibility remains that parts of the state may be declared federal disaster areas. In that case, property owners may be eligible for a low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. These loans are available to homeowners, businesses and nonprofit organizations to replace real estate, personal property or business assets destroyed in a declared disaster. You can even apply for a loan online.
Renters and homeowners are eligible to borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property destroyed in a disaster and up to $200,000 to repair or replace their residence. The loans can’t be used to upgrade your home (unless an upgrade is required by building code) – just to restore it to its original condition. Second homes and vacation properties don’t qualify – although rental properties may fall under the SBA’s business loan program.
Businesses – regardless of size – can apply for disaster loans of up to $2 million to repair or replace lost business assets. Even if your business wasn’t physically damaged in the disaster, you may be eligible for a loan to offset the economic injury suffered in the aftermath.
For more information, call the SBA’s customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.